The ongoing debate about the health of rural Ireland

Emotional hand-wringing and serious debate about economic and social challenges in rural Ireland are ongoing matters. The “Vanishing Ireland Project,” which began in 2001, has focused popular attention on this complicated topic. Lately, there’s been another mini-eruption of attention in the press.

In two pieces for the 3 April issue of The Irish Independent, Dan O’Brien insists that Rural Ireland is recovering, despite claims to the contrary, and There should be no caving in to rural populists. He writes:

Is rural Ireland dying? No, is the short answer, even if fears of a depopulated countryside are more than understandable. Over the course of human history, no trend has been more universal and more constant than urbanization. The move from the land into towns and cities has happened across the world. It continues to happen everywhere.

O’Brien says that population increases and job growth in most parts of the Republic contradict suggestions of rural Ireland being left behind and give “only very limited support for the claim that there is a two-speed recovery between urban and rural areas.” He does acknowledge the West remains “a signification exception to the good news story.”

rural ireland

Still, notions that economic recovery do not extend beyond the M50 motorway (Dublin’s Beltway) are both wrong and dangerous, O’Brien says in his political analysis:

The strong sense of grievance in much of rural Ireland is in keeping with the anger meme that has spread across the western world. Some rural dwellers claim the recovery is not being felt in their areas; that they are being ignored and neglected by the Dublin elites; and that they are losing out in all manner of ways. Some have even spoken of “the death of rural Ireland.”

Whether intentionally or not, his piece is published a year to the day after this headline appeared in IrishCentralThe strange death of rural Ireland as we know it. “Rural Ireland is in deep trouble,” John Spain wrote at time. He continued:

“To say that is not to announce anything new because the way of life in rural Ireland has been under severe pressure now for several decades. But the threat to the rural society that is central to the Irish character and to the image we have of ourselves and the image people around the world have of us has increased dramatically over the last decade. And that has been particularly evident during the economic collapse we have just been through.

A few weeks ago in The Irish Times, Dublin museum director Trevor White said there is “comical deference to rural Ireland” in the capital, which “treats rural Ireland with a respect that borders on fear.” Whether this is true or not will be partially revealed in the response to growing demands for a full-time agricultural minister in the new government.